Well, are ya gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?
-Josey Wales, The Outlaw Josey Wales
“The following is a contributor post by the ABXY Mage.”
Our story begins in 1985. What a colossal year for gaming. Home consoles saw the release of the NES, which meant Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, for starters, and arcades saw the introduction of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Gradius, Gauntlet, Space Harrier, Paperboy, and Commando. That’s a lot of powerhouse titles for one year. So, you’d be forgiven for missing Gun.Smoke. Gun.Smoke is Capcom’s followup to Commando. It’s a vertical shooter in which you play a bounty hunter in the wild west. It was still successful and eventually ported several times, including to the NES, but it did not see the success or acclaim that Commando did.
Still, fifteen years later, in 2000, Angel Studios began work on a spiritual successor thanks to support from Capcom, who officially announced the game in 2002. However, later that year, Angel was bought out by Rockstar’s parent company. In 2003, Capcom cancelled this sequel and Rockstar decided to buy it. They had seen what existed of it when Angel Studios became Rockstar San Diego, and though nothing was playable, the ideas were there and the new studio was excited about the idea.
And so, a game was born that was influenced by, and dripping with homage to, the great spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s.
The prologue introduces us to the playable hero, Red Harlow, as a young teen. His father, Nate, has returned home from Bear Mountain with wonderful news, he and his partner found a huge vein of gold, enough to make them all rich. His father also shows him the special one-of-a-pair gun he and his partner had custom-made after their find, the Scorpion Revolvers, before giving Red his old piece. Eager to begin practicing with his new weapon, Red rushes down to the river to shoot at bottles and pans he’s set up as targets. Practically a natural, it takes no time for him to become proficient with the pistol. This, of course, happens just in time, as the family ranch is raided by bandits soon after. They’ve torched the house and they have it surrounded. The sound of gunfire carries across the prairie.
Pa yells out for Red’s help, and he tears off, guns blazin’ (literally). Unfortunately, it’s too little too late as both of Red’s parents are murdered. Red, trying to help his father, is then confronted by the leader of the gang, Colonel Daren. When Daren calls his father a coward, Red grabs the red-hot Scorpion Revolver from the flaming debris of him home and blows Daren’s arm clean-off. The burn instantly scars Red’s hand as he drops the pistol and runs for safety.
Years later, when we pick back up with Red, he is now a bounty hunter, but he still seeks revenge for the murder of his parents. All grown up, you’ve become a dangerous gunslinger, and you’re hot on the trail of a gang of outlaws who have made camp far from the nearest town. After helping a local salesman, you’re attacked by the gang who don’t seem to like visitors. After dispatching of them, you take their bodies into Window’s Patch to claim the bounty on their heads. Unfortunately, there’s an ambush waiting for you there and yet another gang attacks upon your arrival.
While you eventually emerge victorious, the town sheriff who helped you was shot, and the nearest doctor is a train ride away. In order to receive your bounties, the sheriff needs to live, and so you decide to see him safely to the town of Brimstone.
Easier said than done.
Bandits try to rob the train and nobody can stop them but you. After taking down the inside man, you need to keep the rest of the gang from taking over the train. So, outside the cars you go, eventually up to the engine to protect the conductor.
After safely delivering the train, and the injured sheriff of Widow’s Patch, to Brimstone, it’s time to meet the locals and find out about bounties from the local law enforcement. Weapon upgrades and new guns cost money, and you need to survive until you can figure out why your parents were killed and track down every person responsible for their death and the attempt on your own life. And so, the sheriff of Brimstone leads you on to the first of several financial endeavors: a dynamite loving half-wit and a traveling circus that’s been causing trouble outside of town. While finding them proves perilous, it also leads to the discovery of a prisoner of theirs: temporary ally, Englishman, and sharp-shooting showman, Jack Swift.
Here, the game has you play as a different character for the first time. After thanking Red, it’s time for Jack to get his own revenge against the man who betrayed him and locked him up. Back in Widow’s Patch, Jack finally finishes off the circus, its cruel clowns, and its double-crossing ringleader. Even though the midnight, downtown showdown makes headlines, there’s still criminals on the loose and Red has a series of bounties with which he is much more concerned.
The third playable character arrives in the form of Annie Stoakes, a rancher who’s just barely getting by as she owes the bank the remainder of her father’s loan for the ranch. The thing is, Governor Griffon is buying off her help in order to leave her unable to make enough money to pay the loan back to the bank, which he owns. Real diabolical stuff. On his way to demand payment for his recent bounties, Red overhears all of this, plus the fact that the governor has mined large amounts of gold in Bear Mountain. When the manager of the bank refuses to give any more information about Bear Mountain, Red follows Annie back to her ranch where she’s being raided by bandits, no doubt hired by Governor Griffon, who are burning down her cattle-filled barn.
Annie doesn’t know anything about the gold in Bear Mountain, but she tells you there’s some loudmouths back at the saloon that won’t shut up about it. So, back to Brimstone you go. You find the men, and you hear them talk about the gold, but you also hear them talk about a man with a cannon for an arm; a cannon he had put there after his arm was lost… Finally, a scent of the trail leading to justice.
Red’s interest leads to a bar fight and he is eventually arrested by the same sheriff who’d been hiring him to hunt bounties. And, the sheriff knows all about Red and all about what happened to his family.
Will you uncover the greed and betrayal behind the treacherous scheme involving the armies of two countries? Can you survive the bullet storm long enough to discover the motive behind the murder of your parents? Can you draw quick enough to help Red get the redemption he has been searching for all these years?
Red Dead Revolver is not a bad looking game, but it is far from the best looking game of its time. In fact, the same year saw Metal Gear Solid 3, Halo 2, Jak 3, and Half-Life 2. It also wasn’t any better looking than Rockstar’s other 2004 release, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and that was a huge, sandbox game full of vehicles and characters.
Red Dead Revolver has one very notable issue in terms of visuals, and that is the parts where it’s way too dark. Even in some of the levels where you’re outside in the sun, somehow you often find yourself in the shadow of a building, tree, or cliffside. And, when you’re inside, it’s almost always dark. I realize they didn’t have lights inside like we do now, so it’s realistic, but come on. It can get really annoying considering everything is wood-and-dirt brown tones. The nighttime levels can really be rough in parts for the same reason, as well.
Another, but smaller issue is one it shares with many other shoot ’em ups–as well as beat ’em ups and other arcade games–and that is the reskin and reuse of enemy character models. Quite a few enemies make several appearances throughout the game. Lastly, there was the occasional white outline around a character, usually in a cutscene, but this only happened maybe a half dozen times in the entirety of the game.
Still, some of the set pieces and action sequences will impress you. Red Dead Revolver, with its arcade nature, is not as concerned with being beautiful as it is with being fun, which it definitely is.
The entire soundtrack is comprised of licensed music from spaghetti western films of the 1960s and 1970s (and one from 1980). It fits the story, setting, and gameplay perfectly. This is something that a developer could have easily bungled, so I’m really glad Rockstar got it right.
Just like it would in a movie, the music accentuates every moment of suspense and every second of action.
You can easily enjoy the entire soundtrack without playing the game or having ever played the game. I would highly suggest you do so.
As previously stated, this game originated as a spiritual successor to the vertical shooter, Gun.Smoke for the NES. So, it was a logical progression to take that formula and move it into 3D and turn it into a third-person shooter. You play the lone gunman (well, actually you get to play as a cast of different characters, but we will get to that) hunting bounties in the American west. It’s you versus a couple hundred. Earn money to buy weapons and upgrades, and practice your dueling technique if you want to survive.
Speaking of weapons and upgrades, there are a wide variety of pistols, rifles, shotguns, and miscellaneous weapons like knives and dynamite. Upgrades improve reload speed and damage, of course. Also, as you take damage, so do your weapons, so money will also be needed to repair the guns you’re using. Aside from buying guns, some guns can only be acquired from collecting them after kills. The different stats and the fact that the game forces you to choose one pistol, one rifle, and one misc. weapon leads to interesting combinations to play around with. It also helps with strategically planning levels as you can still pickup the weapons of others after choosing your starting guns.
Unlike its successors, Revolver isn’t an open world or sandbox adventure. It is a series of levels, separated by cutscenes and the occasional visit to Brimstone. The separated action sequences with short cutscenes interspersed helps keep the game feel like it’s constantly moving at a high speed which means the game never feels boring. This is accented by the thousands of bullets you will send flying, in typical arcade fashion, by the end of a single playthrough. It is pretty obvious, though, how Red Dead Redemption would be the natural evolution for the series.
Technically, the game has no issues that I could find. No clipping, no invisible barriers, no glitches or crashes, and even the load screens had cool little scenes for all of the playable characters which include the previously mentioned Red, Jack Swift, and Annie Stoakes, as well as General Diego, Shadow Wolf (Red’s Native cousin), and the otherwise nameless Buffalo Soldier. Each character comes with unique levels, objectives, weapons, and settings.
Red Dead Revolver has an interesting mixture of levels of accessibility. It begins with a tutorial level to teach you how to shoot; the buttons and aiming and all that. Right away you will notice the absence of the usual, Rockstar lock-on target system. That’s because the game wants you to do the aiming. What the tutorial won’t tell or show you is that there is some assisted aiming against moving targets and especially in certain levels. But, overall, you’re forced to do nearly all of the real work yourself.
For the most part, the game forces you to use a lot of the weapons and weapon types, while also allowing you to mostly choose your arsenal. Variety is important for success though, as the range of the weapon can make the difference between life and death against some enemies and in many of the different areas. The pistols and shotguns are only good at closer range, so rifles will be necessary for enemies at a distance. Getting quick with and timing your reloads and weapon changes also becomes important for survival, so it’s not just a point-and-shoot game, by any means. Luckily (depending on your preference), the game always tells you what you need to do and you’re never short on weapons or ammo.
Red Dead Revolver actually has a fantastic difficulty curve. It starts with the tutorial and slowly gets more difficult as you progress, even as you gain weapons and upgrades. It introduces new scenarios, and explains them as needed, throughout the game. Dueling is the one area that I feel like it more challenging than it should be. It isn’t immediately intuitive and can sometimes be frustrating, occasionally feeling more like victory is the result of luck of the draw rather than quick on the draw. However, to the game’s credit, there is still a curve with it as well, progressively getting harder with each new opponent. You really have to be near-perfect in the final duel. So, while it can feel unfair in some matches, it’s highly rewarding every time you beat someone in a duel.
Actually, all of the gunfighting is rewarding, and this is thanks to the lack of auto-aiming. Making you learn to sharpshoot on your own may make the game more difficult, but in the kind of way that makes it more fun and immersive, not annoying or like the game is cheating. All in all, the General Diego level is really the only one that ever felt unfair in its challenge. When the cannons begin to fire, they seem to know where you’re going before you do. On top of that, the final sections require you to keep two soldiers alive as they plant explosives. Unfortunately, they are bullet magnets, and they seem to move with no sense of direction. At times it felt like trying to keep Mr. Magoo alive on the beaches of Normandy.
Foolishly, I turned off my PlayStation while the game was saving and corrupted my save file. This forced me to have to start over after playing fourteen of the twenty-seven missions. I was only bothered because I had to replay the General Diego mission. Otherwise, I was more than happy to replay the first half of the game. That should tell you all you need to know.
Aside from that, there are Journal Entries you an acquire from purchasing items at different shops which act as collectibles. You can also replay to try and end with a higher dollar amount (score). Of course, you can just replay because the story is cool, the music is fantastic, and the game is fun.
Prior to 2004 the Wild West was a virtually untapped resource for video games. Aside from big names like Sunset Riders, Wild Guns, Outlaws, and the western-inspired RPG, Wild Arms, there weren’t a lot of well-known games that took place in the setting. However, since Red Dead Revolver‘s release, it seems that the Wild West has been gaining popularity. Whether it’s because of this game or not, it’s hard to be certain.
What is certain, however, is that the game not only felt unique when it came out, but still does now, thanks to its cast of characters and combination of the third-person shooter and shoot ’em up arcade genres. Even (or especially) if you’ve played Red Dead Redemption or RDR2, this game will feel unique and new. I’m actually surprised there wasn’t a wave of ripoffs that stole this game’s ideas.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
This game is a lot of fun. If you like the old westerns, you’ll love Red Dead Revolver. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, from what I know about its (completely unrelated) sequels, and yet in absolutely no way did that make for one iota of disappointment. The atmosphere is thick and excellent thanks to the story, setting, weapon variety, and did I mention how perfect the music is? The whole thing really feels like a Sergio Leone classic with you as The Man With No Name (clearly one of the big inspirations for Red). Knowing that the Redemption games have nothing to do with Revolver just makes me now hope for a true sequel from Rockstar someday. I would love nothing more than deeper and bigger Revolver. The game has a unique kind of fun that should be resurrected. Hopefully, Red Dead Revolver hasn’t ridden off into its last sunset.
Aggregated Score: 8.3
The ABXY Mage leads a double life of unfathomable hipness, if his expertise in jazz is any indication. Music maker, fandangoist, writer, you can find this hip cat as ABXY Reviews on Twitter and on YouTube.
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Categories: Game Review